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German insurance comparison website Check24 fined for failure to disclose it was an insurance broker

  • Germany
  • United Kingdom
  • Insurance and reinsurance

23-04-2018

The Munich District Court has ordered German comparison website operator Check24 to pay a fine for not having implemented the ruling of the Munich Higher Regional Court on how to inform its users of the fact that Check24 not only compares prices but also receives commissions as an insurance broker. Check24 had been criticized by the BVK, the Federal Professional Association of Insurance Intermediaries, who were the claimant in the proceedings.

In our bulletin of 15 July 2016 we reported that the Munich District Court had clarified the obligations of insurance comparison websites both as regards their status as insurance brokers and as regards their obligation to provide appropriate advice. On 6 April 2017 this decision was confirmed by the Munich Higher Regional Court, and it is now being enforced by imposing a fine on Check24 of EUR 15,000.

In its 2016 decision the Munich District Court had held the Check24 did not fulfill its duty to properly inform clients about its status as an insurance broker.  It was only providing this information on demand.  According to sec. 11 of the Insurance Mediation and Advice Regulation this information has to be provided in text form in a clear and comprehensible way at the time of the initial contact. The Higher Regional Court confirmed the position, stating that simply providing the respective information on demand is not sufficient.

The Munich Higher Regional Court also saw room for improvement with regard to the consulting services provided by Check24. The duties set out in sec. 61 of the Insurance Contracts Act would also apply to comparison websites who act as insurance brokers. In the view of the Higher Regional Court comparison websites may not rely on exemptions applicable to insurers for distant selling contracts due to their divergent interests. Unlike the insurers which act in their own interest, insurance brokers and comparison platforms act in the interest of the users.

The Higher Regional Court found that there was a need for more detailed advice to be given and for the comparison sites to use broader and more extensive questioning of the website user.  This was to ensure that the website users do not purchase insurance policies which they do not really need, and to ensure that the users have been advised about the risk of double insurance and that users understood the exclusions of specific risks.

In view of the BVK the decision of the Munich Higher Regional Court was an important success for consumer rights. 

In practice this means that the information obligations do bite. This is one more reason for brokers to review the new rules under the Insurance Distribution Directive (IDD) and assess the need for any changes to be made.  Despite some statements to the contrary, the IDD  came into force in Germany on 23 February 2018.

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